Stock Futures Wobble Ahead of Data, Fed Minutes

Wall Street could be set to give up some of the prior session's gains, with stock futures pointing south on Wednesday. Investors were waiting on a labor-market report and minutes of the last Federal Open Market Committee meeting, which should offer more insight into the central bank's tapering plans.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 22 points to 16432, while those for the S&P 500 index dropped 2.8 points to 1827.90. Futures for the Nasdaq-100 were down 4.25 points to 3544.50.

The Automatic Data Processing employment report for December, due for release at 8:15 a.m. EST, is largely seen as offering clues to the nonfarm-payrolls report scheduled for release Friday. Economists expect the ADP report to reveal steady job gains in December.

The bigger focus will likely be the release of the FOMC minutes at 2 p.m. EST. At the Dec. 18 meeting, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues announced a $10 billion reduction in the central bank's bond-buying program, pulling it back to $75 billion a month, starting in January. The Fed also firmed up its forward guidance, saying short-term interest rates would not rise until "well past the time" the jobless rate drops below its 6.5% threshold.

Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Ava Trade, said in emailed comments that traders are sitting on the fence ahead of the minutes, which could be the biggest market mover of the week.

"We will be very closely looking at the minutes and seeing how much support is there for Bernanke's view of tapering in every single meeting until the ultra-loose monetary policy ends this year," said Aslam. "Markets do consider Janet Yellen as a dove, but the fact is that she voted for tapering last year, and we think that we could be in for a surprise when [she] does not become as dovish as many thought."

Wall Street stocks rallied on Tuesday, lifted by data showing a smaller-than-forecast trade gap and gains for health-care stocks. The S&P 500 snapped a three-day losing streak with a gain of 11.11 points, or 0.6%, to close at 1,837.88. The Dow industrials rose 0.6%, and both indexes inched closer to their Dec. 31 record closes.

Among individual stocks, shares of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Ford Motor Co. (F) could be active after a report that Ford's chief executive officer, Alan Mulally, won't leave the auto maker to head up the software company.

Shares of Micron Technology Inc. (MU) could add to Tuesday's late-session gains that came after the chipmaker reported adjusted fiscal first-quarter earnings of 77 cents a share on revenue of $4.04 billion.

Container Store Group Inc. (TCS) shares could see pressure, after an 8% late-session fall. The company gave its first quarterly results since going public, reporting an adjusted third-quarter profit of 11 cents a share on revenue of $188.3 million.

Shares of CEC Entertainment Inc. (CEC), which operates the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain, could be active. Shares rose 11% in Tuesday's late trade after a Reuters report said the company is exploring a possible sale.

In other markets, European stocks pulled back from moderate gains after data showed retail sales in the euro zone rising at the fastest rate in 12 years during November, lifting hopes for a revival in domestic demand. The monetary policy committees of the European Central Bank and the Bank of England will both release decisions on interest rates on Thursday.

Asia stocks traded mixed, with the Nikkei 225 index firming up on a weaker yen. The dollar remained firmer across the board, while gold slipped, and oil prices steadied.